________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 9 . . . . January 3, 2003


The Thief Lord.

Cornelia Funke.
New York, NY: The Chicken House/Scholastic, 2002.
349 pp., cloth, $23.99.
ISBN 0-439-40437-1.

Subject Headings:
Robbers and outlaws-Fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Anne Letain.

*** /4


A water rat scuttled away as the children felt their way along the narrow passage. It led to a canal, like so many of Venice's alleys and passages. Hornet, Prosper and Bo, however, only followed it as far as a metal door set in the windowless wall to their right. Someone had painted "VIETATO INGRESSO" in clumsy letters on it --No Entry." The door had once been one of the movie theatre's emergency exits. Now it was the entrance to a hiding place that only six children knew anything about.

Next to the door was a cord and Prosper gave it two strong tugs. He waited for a moment and then pulled it once more. This was their sign, but it still took quite awhile before something happened. Bo hopped impatiently from one foot to the other. Finally the door opened just a crack and a suspicious voice asked, "Password?"

The Thief Lord is a book that is firmly derived from a legion of predecessors. It has more than a whiff of Harry Potter, a definite air of Peter Pan and the lost boys, and moments of the magic realism of Skellig. The story is that perennial classic of runaway orphans escaping the clutches of mean hearted relations, in this case a scurrilous aunt and uncle. On the death of their mother, Prosper and his small brother Bo escape to Venice where they find company among other orphans living in an abandoned theatre. This intrepid band of children is befriended and protected by Scipio, "The Thief Lord," who has a few secrets of his own. The children support themselves through pickpocketing and outright theft, and there may be more than a few adult readers who might be troubled by this casual take on petty crime.

     The cast of supporting characters include a regular bevy of eccentric adults, chief of whom is Victor, a Bob Hoskins look-alike tortoise loving detective, hired to find Bo and Prosper. He ultimately takes the children under his wing and secures a happy ending for them.

     The plot hinges on "The Thief Lord" finding and delivering a mysterious lion's wing to an equally mysterious "Comte." The action is fast and furious, and its non-stop nature may make for a greater movie than book.

     Characterization is modest, and a more in depth portrayal would have resulted in more reader loyalty and an enduring story. The "star" of the novel may well be the city of Venice, itself. As the children explore the canals, lagoons, squares and buildings, the exotic locale lends an aura of mystery and intrigue to the tale.

     The Thief Lord will likely appeal both to boys and girls in the 8-11 age range and should provide an alternate offering to those young readers who just can't wait for the next installment of Harry Potter.


Anne Letain is a teacher-librarian and school library consultant in Southern Alberta.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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